California 9/11 Memorial Hosts 20th Anniversary of September 11

The 20th anniversary of the California 9-11 Memorial Ceremony stayed true to its mission to honor, educate, and remember the terrorist attacks that occurred in New York on Sept. 11 2001 and the day after, Sept. 12. 

This year was special because it was the unveiling of expansion No. 2 for the memorial. 

This expansion included several new statues, the presence of the survivor tree, and the new Flight 93 windchime structure.

“We knew our work was not done, so we continued,” said Anna Borgeas, Executive Director of California 9-11 memorial.

Earlier this year the California 9-11 Board of Directors worked with members of the state legislature in successfully passing SV254, Sept. 11 Remembrance Day.

This new law encourages teachers in both primary and secondary schools to preserve a moment of silence in our classrooms to commemorate Sept. 11. 

Each new statue that was introduced in the memorial had a specific symbolic need to be there. 

For the Wounded Warrior statue, it was to remind people of wounds from the attacks that are both visible and invisible in first responders and the family members involved. 

“We asked John if he could do that, and he said ‘I can do that,’ said Reno Coletti, Chief Operating Officer for the Cook Land Company and one of the 9-11 Memorial Founding Members.

The sculptor of the new statues, John Parsons, also included a replica of a dog at the foot of the Wounded Warrior statue. 

This dog is used to symbolize and give thanks to the 300 dogs that were deployed for several different missions on the day the attacks took place.   

Unfortunately Parsons was unable to attend the event after being hospitalized as a result of Covid-19, but his work is intricate to detail and recognized by all who attended the event. 

Another important statue that was new this year was Moira Smith’s. 

She is recognized as the only female NYPD officer who perished during the attacks, and is a symbol for female first responders. 

“We wanted to represent all branches, and we needed to represent women,” said Coletti.

M. Smith saw the first plane, Flight 11, hit the first tower, was the first to call emergency contacts to report the incident, and helped save thousands of people from within the towers. 

In fact, she was the reason that 18 people survived from the floors above where Flight 11 hit, one of which is seen sitting on the floor with her statue.

This survivor, Ed Nicholls, was rescued by Moira Smith and guided to the sidewalk to wait for an ambulance. 

Moira Smith’s husband, James Smith, and sister, Mary Reddy, were both invited to attend the event and spoke of the person she was and still is in their memory. 

“She embraced life, and that’s what made her such a good police officer,” said J. Smith, “you have to love life to be able to protect life and be willing to give up your own life.”  

She sacrificed her own life on the day of 9-11 to rescue others, but this was not the first time for her to commit such selfless acts. 

In 1991, a subway derailed near Union Square in New York where five passengers were killed and 200 were injured, and Moira Smith arrived at that crash, quick to start helping others get out safely.  

“She went in and rescued people, it was very dangerous,” said Reddy, “afterwards I asked her ‘why do you keep doing this? You have a baby,’ and she goes ‘who else will do it? This is what I’m made for.” 

Another significant symbol that was added to the memorial was the Survivor Tree that was placed beside the Wounded Warrior during the ceremony. 

Together the Survivor Tree, a Callery pear tree, and the Wounded Warrior statue represent resilience, survival and rebirth.

The original Survivor Tree was the only living thing left on Ground Zero in October 2001, and even after burned branches and snapped roots, it was able to be nursed back to health by the  New York Department of Parks and Recreation. 

Every year two saplings from the tree are given as a sign of hope. In January of 2020 the California 9-11 Memorial was gifted one sapling which was nurtured and brought to this year’s ceremony. 

“To be selected shows they have something important here in Clovis,” said Todd Cook, partner in the Land Cook Company and founding member of the memorial. 

The Flight 93 structure, made of aircraft materials, was also new to the memorial this year. 

“There are a total of 40 rivets, 20 per wing, representing the 40 Americans that lost their lives on that flight,” said Coletti. 

The structure had four windchimes hanging down from the top, each with the name of the four individuals who helped storm the cockpit to take back control from the terrorist hijackers on 9-11. 

Todd Beamer, who is one of the four names, also has his famous last words at the base of the structure: ‘Let’s Roll.’

What makes the California Memorial so special is how people feel when they are at the site. 

Reddy, sister of Moira Smith, spoke of the difference between Ground Zero in New York and Clovis’ California 9-11 Memorial.

“It’s [The California Memorial] more hopeful,” said Reddy, “a whole community has come together and honored people they never knew.”

The ceremony as a whole is made possible through the volunteer support of first responders from the police, fire, military, and rescue teams that continue to help protect the United States and its citizens.  

Blake McDonald, who is the son of David McDonald, was also present for the ceremony to see his father’s memorial become what it is today and to celebrate the growth and support it has come to possess. 

Alongside the memorial and the pieces that were added in the expansion, there was also a large educational aspect of the ceremony.

This memorial’s promise to honor and educate was brought together by the annual One Voice Competition.

This year’s competition included 6 schools within the county and had over 200 applicants. These applicants were separated into three categories: art, poetry, and logo.

The prompt for this year’s competition was to promote the ‘Spirit of 9-12’ and how the country came together as a whole after the attacks. 

Logo winner for the competition was Valerie Pham, grade 8 from Sanger Unified, who created the slogan “united we fall, united we rise.”  

According to Pham, The diamond shapes of the logo represent what the twin tower memorial looked like from above, and they are cutting into the 11 instead of being behind it because the aftermath of the attacks was 9-12.

“We fell as a whole nation that day, it wasn’t an attack on any one group.” Said Pham, “it was an attack on America, and America came together as one that day.” 

This logo was printed on all of the shirts for the 20th anniversary of the memorial ceremony, and was given to all attendees who made a $25 donation to the memorial. 

There were six winners for each category; three middle school students and three high school students. On top of this, there were also two grand prize winners who were announced at the ceremony. 

This year’s grand prize winners were Isabella Cantania, grade 8 from Fresno Unified, who won the middle school poetry contest, and  Maya Alcala, grade 10 from Clovis Unified, who won the high school art contest. 

Catania wrote a poem about the events that occurred on 9-11, recognizing the first responders. The title of her poem was ‘Through the Eyes of a Hero.’

One impactful excerpt from her poem: 

“Never forgetting our first responders who lost their lives doing what was right

Thank you, from the bottom of my heart, for being the heroes we needed

For being the heroes we need.”

Alcala illustrated a piece on the Twin Towers with smoke coming from the top, but if you look closely at the piece you will see that inside the buildings, the smoke, and the sky there are names of all the individuals who lost their lives on that tragic day. 

What you can’t see in this illustration is that she also wrote names on the back as a result of running out of room on the front, stating that she did so “because everyone should be remembered.” 

Both of these young ladies were awarded a trip to New York City to see Ground Zero in person with a teacher of choice and their parents. 

During the ceremony there was also a live performance from Clovis North Choir who sang “Remember Me” in honor of the fallen first responders and victims of the tragic events that occured on 9-11. 

“Everybody that came here was ready to honor, and were excited to see the students and everything they had created to always never forget,” said Borgeas.

The 20th anniversary of the California 9-11 Memorial was true to its promise to honor first responders, educate the youth, and remember, both the fallen and the unity that came to be on 9-12. 

Sydney Morgan, currently a junior at Fresno State University, grew up in the sleepy town of Templeton, CA. With Lester Holt and Carrie Bradshaw as her journalist role models, she considers herself to have a more creative approach to her news and entertainment stories.